The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 05

If I had to pick a single episode from last season that sold me on Uchouten Kazoku’s magical setting and ability to project care free fun, it would be the flying tea house battle. While I have mixed feelings about this season’s episode being about the same thing, there is no doubt that the format works tremendously well. The event pulls many characters into one space, the inevitable fight between Yasaburou and Kinkaku and Ginkaku provides enjoyably silly action, and fireworks (and flight) make for a lovely background for many introspective and contemplative scenes.

In many ways, the festival and action is secondary to a great deal of character development. While Sensei has always shown a soft spot for the tenuki (under his gruff old man treatment) this week puts him at the center of their lives as a wise figure deserving of the respect they always show him. Simply, he makes the older siblings get over their hesitation and confess their affections for each other. It’s gruff but also kind, and includes a brief telling that he did this for Yasa’s parents too. Cast in the warm light of the train car, surrounded by food and family, its a lovely scenes.

Speaking of the train, it was great to see Yajiro’s ability to change into a train looped back to. Not only is it great to see a throw away joke pay off, but it gives Yajiro a vehicle to participate in the narrative when he otherwise would be restricted to the well.

It was also a good choice to have Yajiro totally screw up the beginning of the event, by blasting off too quickly and spilling much of the meal inside his belly. Nothing really goes right for the tenuki. Not even when they are trying to be classy or show their power. It’s a great reminder of their place in the pecking order.

But the big loud emotional turn was Benten’s fight with Nadaime. Having stolen his couch for her own amusement and having never had anyone stand up to her, Benten really went into this with a target painted on her back. Yasaburou even remarks that he knew she would lose the second she lunged at Nadaime. (and it was foreshadowed by the mid episode card, showing ‘where Benten fell’ on the city map)

And as loud as that short fight was, Uchouten Kazoku immediately returns to the quiet, tender, introspection it does so well. Yasaburou and Sensei go to find where Benten has landed and sensei gives her a stern but fatherly speaking to. You are angry. Use it to get stronger. That is all.

The Verdict: Finally, a must watch week! It loops so many threads in together and it does so elegantly. So elegantly I’m not even sure I can put my finger on any one character dominating the story. So elegantly that I’m not sure there really is a antagonist in a traditional sense, as Benten is as much at fault (if not more) than Nadaime. (and in his own way, Nadaime is a far nicer person than she)

The formula is setting in, too, with a repeat of last week’s fake-out ending conflict opening as a non-conflict. (Everyone sucked into the Shoji board just ends up in sensei’s closet) While a strict formula isn’t necessary for a good show (or even good for most shows) having a rhythm is, and that was something Uchouten Kazoku has been sorely lacking.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 04

The Gist: Benten stomps on Nadaime’s freshly ironed shirts, but otherwise leaves without incident. Yasaburou’s older brother’s love interest is revealed and a bit of backstory unfolds revolving around Shoji. Tousen nudges Yasaburou to help his brother hook up with the girl, which he does, and all ends well… except that the love interest is magically sucked into a Shoji board right at the end. Dun dun duuuunnnn.

The Verdict: Despite being a mostly contained ‘drop’ in the story bucket, and not carrying over anything serious from the week before, Uchouten Kazoku brought the magic this week. All the build up to the Shoji tournament, and the final match itself, just worked nicely side-by-side with the character building. I don’t have much else to say I’m affraid — just go watch it!

Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho – 04

Grimoire of Zero continues to feel episodic; last week was the big city episode, while this was largely a transitory outing, full of little slice-of-life vignettes that serve to deepen our understanding of who Mercenary, Zero, and Albus are—not to mention having the latter two bounce off the former, both literally and figuratively.

One thing is clear: Albus has quickly softened his “kill all beastfallen” stance, while Zero, neophyte to the outside world that she is, has formed a very close bond with Merc, considering him not just an employee, but a project.

She and Albus repeat the joke about them being sex slaves to the gate guards, but when one of the children he scared away is hurt (when another beastfallen shoves her out of his way), Zero makes it look like Merc fully heals the young woman’s ankle.

Changing hearts and minds will be key if the war between the factions of this world is to ever cease. After that, the downright leisurely pace of the episode is mitigated somewhat by the fact the trio covers a fair amount of ground, much of it very picturesque (see above).

Albus gets some pointers on fishing magic from Zero, while Zero also attempts to give Merc a kiss (and is rebuffed by the bashful tiger).

The trio tucks into another fine meal by Merc (who wants to one day open and run a tavern), and learns that Albus was orphaned and raised by his granny, and that Zero grew up in the caves studying sorcery and may well have developed her Grimoire of Zero in order to eat better. Not a bad reason, if you ask me!

Continuing the theme of Zero wanting to get closer to Merc, she offers to train him in magic, which will keep them together for some time. All this sticking around with people for an extended length of time is clearly a new concept for Merc, but I don’t think he loathes it as much as he sometimes protests; quite the contrary.

Thinks finally take a turn for the dark, and a rather sudden one, at that, once the trio reaches the outskirts of their next destination, the village of Latette. Albus knows the village well, and a dog he knows comes to greet him, but it’s carrying a burnt doll. The trio looks on and is horrified to see it is also smoldering; its inhabitants burned alive.

Is it mere raiders, or more likely, hostile witches fighting in their late idol Sorena’s name to exact revenge on humans? Whatever it is, our trio will likely have to tread carefully once again, and avoid revealing too much of themselves to strangers—something they now have no trouble doing with each other.

Grimoire of Zero has its charms, but it isn’t particularly spellbinding; it’s a bit of a dawdle at times. It’s certainly no match for recent fantasy adventure shows like Grimgar, Alderamin, or Re:Zero. If it was airing any other day but Monday I’d have probably already dropped it, but after a four-episode sample, I believe I’ve watched enough after all.

Sakura Quest – 04

This week everyone helps Sanae move out of her old, bug-filled house. While helping out, Yoshino can’t help but notice the exquisite wood-carvings or ranma built into the house. Turns out Manoyama’s wood carving is one of Japan’s government-protected traditional art forms. How ’bout that!

Yoshino thinks they might be able to use that to boost tourism…er, somehow. In the meantime, after Shiori’s truck breaks down, they get it serviced by Doku, the local tinkerer and inventor, who also happens to have a frikkin’ perfectly functioning biomechanical exoskeleton in the bed of his, get this: Ford pickup truck. There’s all kinda wrong going on that preceding sentence.

In a show that’s going for simple slice-of-life realism, I failed to see the need for a Kuromukuro crossover. Yeah, this tech is out there, but some old guy in a shed in the sticks banging it out? It’s a bit far-fetched. But that’s not even the worst of it.

They get some poor young wood-carver to make decorative accessories to tack onto the exoskeleton to make it more appealing to the olds. Because if its one thing the elderly love, it’s really heavy impractical stuff that can fly out of control at a moment’s notice due to dubious R&D!

I realize the Board of Merchants’ chairwoman is supposed to be the curmudgeonly counterpart to Ushimatsu’s more openness to innovation, and the ideal philosophy, if there is one, is somewhere in between. But when Ririko’s grandmother asked them where their sense of pride is, I was kinda hoping she’d asked where their sense was, period.

Look, I understand the episode was trying to give each party in the woodcarving debate their fair shake, and Yoshino and her ministers aren’t the “good guys” by default, but they really didn’t help their case with such awful, cockamamie ideas.

The result of their failure is that Sanae tells Yoshino she’s out as minister, saying her heart isn’t in it. That’s ironic, because I don’t think my heart is in Sakura Quest anymore, either. Somehow the prospect of watching twenty more episodes of Yoshino and her cohorts fumbling around doesn’t seem all that appealing.

At this point, I think I’d rather do some woodcarving…the kind that doesn’t trample on centuries of tradition.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 03

The Gist: Benten returns and crushes Tenmaya, who is both obsessed with and terrified of her. Yasaburou and his mother Tousen visit Tousen’s mother, an ancient white fluffy tanuki, and ask for help turning frog-brother back to normal. The grandmother is blind, kind, and cryptic, but offers some medicine.

Later, Yasaburou and his little brother visit Nadaime’s new location, which is a lovely roof top mansion, and share some afternoon tea. Benten shows up and completely fails to dominate Nadaime. Major magical conflict can not be far off now…

As is often the case, Uchouten Kazoku wandered us through several lovely, dialogue-heavy scenes that straddle the line between inconsequential and deeply magical. However, because Uchouten Kazoku treats its magical settings and characters as everyday occurrences, exposition is kept to a minimum.

What is grandmother’s place in tanuki culture? What are the other tanuki doing around grandmother? Is it a ceremony simply because she is old or is she part of the shrine or something else? Leaving us with a heavily detailed but unknowable scene renders it dreamlike. Captivating.

The rise and fall of Benten is more or less the defining arc this week. As with Nadaime, she abruptly falls from the sky full of power and crushes Tenmaya. While we learn no details about their rivalry, and Benten is almost as interested in Yasaburou’s moon (stolen by Tenmaya) as she is in Tenmaya himself.

Here Benten is full of power and flaunts it. Yasaburou has no course but to ask very nicely for his moon back and Tenmaya has no choice but to shed his fake skin and flee. Benten casually rolls the moon around her fingers and, when she tires of it, simply throws it back into the sky before demanding even more courtesy from Yasaburou and wandering off to visit her master.

That domination comes to a quick end when Benten arrives at Nadaime’s new house and arrogantly lays down on the couch Nadaime had planned to use for his afternoon nap. Always polite, Nadaime asks her to leave and when she will not, he spreads a sheet on the floor and dumps her out. Paying her no mind, he thanks everyone for their visit and gets ready to nap.

The contrast between Nadaime and Benten is rather interesting. Both are powerful and throw their weight around but it is hard to figure out which is ‘good’ or not. Despite her malice and abuse, Benten seems to care for Yasaburou. (At least she cares enough to want his attention) Where as Nadaime, despite being generally polite in dialog, is obviously dismissive of Tenuki in general. He’s tolerant of them, but does not especially desire to have them around.

The Verdict: Despite the masterful craft poured into Uchouten Kazoku, it is not always an exciting nor engaging show to watch. Again, as last week, episode three was full of action, characters and conflict, but it lacked a sense of purpose. Nadaime’s shirt ironing, Yasaburou’s grandmother, and Benten playing with the moon were all interesting curiosities but, not counting Nadaime and Benten’s cliffhanger showdown, nothing consequential actually happened.

Alice to Zouroku – 04

Nearly the entirety of this episode is spent in the cramped dark interior of a Hummer in which Minnie C continues to restrain Sana and lectures her about the fact that she’s not human, but rather a random but extremely powerful phenomenon that’s taken the form of a little girl.

Their scenes feel numerous and repetitive, until Sana meets someone who looks like her older self in her subconscious, then musters the energy to transport Zouroku into the car with her and Minnie C.

This occurs after Zouroku makes it clear he not only wants Sana back, but wants to make her a part of his and Sanae’s family. Sanae concurs, but hopes in the future her gramps will be more open and communicative with her and Sana.

When Zouroku is in the Hummer, he wastes no time lecturing Minnie C, who is unquestionably up to some of the “crooked stuff” he hates so much. Minnie can justify her beastly actions all she likes; as far as Zouroku is concerned, Sana is a little girl who doesn’t deserve this treatment…even if she isn’t really a little girl (and the jury is very much still out on that).

When Minnie starts shooting her service pistol, Sana tries to surrender, but Zouroku won’t let her call herself a monster or a waste of time. It’s his choice what he gets himself into, and now that he’s into this, he’s committed to her well-being.

That being said, neither Sana nor Zouroku have the power to oppose Minnie C, which is why seeing Ichijou Shizuku arrive at the scene to rescue them is necessary.

Her appearence in her suit left me doubting she was the same “cosplaying” girl who saved Sana from Minnie in the first ep, but now at least we know she’s a “Cabinet Information Research Office Secret Service agent”, and Ryuu and her superiors are well aware of her abilities.

This episode felt like it dragged the rescue out, and as a result, it was very monologue-heavy. Also, Ryuu’s assurances everything would be fine (which they turned out to be) kinda sapped the tension. I’m glad Sana and Z were rescued, and have a powerful ally who knows how to properly use her powers.

DanMachi Gaiden: Sword Oratoria – 02

After an action-packed return, Sword Oratoria settles down, as the Loki Familia returns to the surface and home to their patron, Loki. For those who weren’t a fan of apparent co-protagonist Lefiya’s bungling on the battlefield, you probably weren’t thrilled that she’s an easy mark for Loki’s sexual harassment (which all the other girls know how to avoid…though they should really report to H.R. More to the point…they need H.R., bad!)

But while she’s still finding her footing in battle, with one of the higher-ups like Riveria on her side, and the fact she’s cute and mostly harmless, Lefiya is treated like something of a mascot or good luck charm. She seems to revel in that role, and makes cheering Ais up her primary mission.

The higher-ups also see how restless and consumed Ais is with improving herself, and believes having an admirer close by will help her be more aware of others. It certainly can’t hurt for Lefiya to be beside Ais. Each can provide what the other lacks; it’s a good arrangement.

But the true reason Ais has been more down than usual lately is her encounter with the previous show’s MC, Cranel Bell, or “Tomatoface”, as a drunken Bete calls him at the tavern…the same tavern where Cranel himself is. Like the minotaur encounter, it’s another scene inhabiting the same time and place as DanMachi, only from Ais and the familia’s POV.

At the same time, Oratoria doesn’t lean too heavily on the events we’ve already seen, and when it does, the fresh POV, gives them, well, fresh context and insight.

As for what’s new, we get a lot more exposure to the various members of the Loki Familia and get to see them take care of things like bartering away dungeon loot and getting their weapons repaired—or in Tiona’s case, replaced—by some very exasperated smiths.

When the twins decide Ais needs more cheering up they take her on a shopping trip, where we see the stark contrast between their taste in fashion (much less is more) and Lefiya’s (lots of cloth; lots of frills). (They also put Ais in Hestia cosplay, which…well played, DanMachi).

When Lefiya foots the bill as thanks for Ais looking out for her (and because she just wants to) Ais finally puts two and two together and realizes everything Lefiya has done for her, and why. So instead of apologizing for not realizing sooner, Ais does all she really needs to do: she thanks Lefiya for blowing so much petty cash on her. It’s Cranel to whom she apparently feels she must apologize.

Was there way too much talk of boobs and grabbing and groping of boobs in this episode? Probably. But the fine slice-of-lifeity made up for that, and Lefiya was definitely of more use in town than in the dungeon, even if talked to herself and daydreamed too much. There’s still hope for her!

Sakura Quest – 03

When a television interview exposes Queen Yoshino I’s dearth of knowledge about the very town she rules (mentioning only its natural scenery and manju), Ushimatsu insists she go out into the town and “feel the wind”…which she does, literally, no no effect.

Shiori then accompanies her on a series of increasingly demoralizing interviews with Manoyama’s salt-of-the-earth residents, who either can’t hear what she’s saying, don’t trust her, or say there’s nothing she can do.

However, the bus driver (who was the prince when she was first crowned as a little girl) is one somewhat-heartening voice: if someone’s going to revamp the town, it will either be someone young, someone foolish, or an outsider. Yoshino’s all three, so she should be fine!

She also actually learns a few things about the town. One, it used to be just plain ol’ Kabura Kingdom, without the chupa- , and that Ushimatsu and his tourism board and the board of merchants (led by Ririko’s grandma) have always been at odds with the switch to UMA.

At the apparently super-important mascot contest, Ushimatsu finds his chupakabura mask has gone missing. Little do they know Yoshino’s new friends Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko are ON IT. They put a ridiculous amount of time into tracking down the town’s previous mascot, Kabura Kid, then mending it in time.

It’s a real group effort, though the particulars of their motivation, beyond helping Yoshino out, escaped me a bit. I guess they really did all have a bunch of time on their hands!

They arrive at the contest with the Kabura mask the same time Ushimatsu’s underlings arrive with the chupa mask, soiled by spending time at the garbage dump.

(I’ll mention that I love that Mrs. Oribe takes such pleasure in taking Ushimatsu down a peg whenever possible, talking about how he’ll be saved by the very kingdom he once destroyed. It’s such gloriously big language for such a petty subject!)

But hey, maybe it’s not so petty. As Ushimatsu and the others bicker over which mask he’ll wear, the Queen finally puts her royal foot down, and says it doesn’t matter. (But she choses the kabura mask, since it’s not covered in shit).

In a stilted, serious speech probably not quite appropriate for the audience of mostly kids, she says she doesn’t yet know what Manoyama has that no other town in the world has, but she’ll spend the next year hoping to find out (assuming the entire town doesn’t die of old age by then).

The one condition she gives Ushimatsu is that she be allowed to perform her duties with the assistance of the combined force of Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko, who all agree to be her “council of ministers.”

Again, because I guess they just don’t have a lot going on? It’s not made clear whether they’ll be paid like Yoshino is, but one would hope. What kind of kingdom can’t pay its subjects a fair wage for their services?

Watched with a hearty helping of suspension of disbelief, Sakura Quest is a pleasant enough place to spend time, if pretty much average in looks and sound. So I’ll stick with it for now. Can that sustain me for…25 episodes? That remains to be seen.

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 02

The Gist: Akadama and Nidaime’s top-dog Tengu fight ends before it even begins, with Akadama falling off the building and Nidaime not seeing his father being worth the effort to fight. For whatever reason, Akadama takes this as a victory, which Yasaburou thinks is patently absurd.

Though perhaps that’s Nidaime’s point in not calling himself a Tengu? The very definition of Tengu may project an arrogance that he finds unnecessary and unproductive.

Meanwhile, a noodle shop opens on the roof of the shopping arcade and the owner wont take it down. Apparently, he can extend his chin as a whip, amongst various other illusions and even Yasaburou’s foolishness is not enough to win the day. Actually, Yasaburou ends up a hypnotized bear, and is nearly shot by the police…

This conflict leads to a few passing confrontations between Yasaburou and his formerly betrothed, who’s angsty at him for a variety of things but, most obviously, that they are no longer engaged. Even though Yasaburou is the only one who doesn’t realize there’s no reason for them not to be engaged anymore…

It also leads to the introduction of a painter who doesn’t want to sell his paintings and reveals the name and identity of the noodle shop owner. Tenmaya, who appears magical but is also consistently referred to as just human, apparently climbed out of a painting of hell because the painter illustrated a Buddha holding a spider’s thread out to the damned… it’s unclear who the painting belongs to or what the significance of all of this is. (Tenmaya doesn’t seem to want anything from life except amusement)

What is clear is that Yasaburou probably shouldn’t have tried to scare Tenmaya by turning into a demon, which is where the episode ends. A shotgun pointed right in our poor foolish hero’s face…

The official theme this week is that we are in the age in which Man plays tricks on Tenuki. However, for me, the story was more about the world not being able to move forward. (or not being aware of its lack of forward development)

Akadama is not only stuck in the tradition of Tengu, but also stuck on his conflict with his son. Despite his rejection of Tengu, Nadaime hasn’t moved ahead himself, which is evident from his characterization of Akadama being pathetic because he interacts with Tenuki, and Nadaime’s somewhat vaguely contradictory like/disrespect of Yasaburou throughout their encounters.

Yasaburou is stuck in last season’s position of servitude to the community, pranking around without purpose, and with not advancing his relationships with family and his love interest. He doesn’t exactly have a strong narrative reason to have changed, but he hasn’t changed regardless.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku takes a casual approach to narrative. It just sorta wanders all over the place, touching on many different story threads, but without any sense of specific purpose. This very much fits the nature of Tenuki, and the experience is enjoyable enough due to the odd and specifically weird situations, but it does risk becoming so whimsical as to lose my attention.

It’s already somewhat hard to follow, due to the gigantic cast, many of which can shape-change and many others who simply don’t get enough story time for me to remember who they are or what their objectives may be.

For now, the magic has me under it’s spell. However, like Akadama, I too miss Benten and the sense of specific adversarial focus she brings. Hopefully, we’ll see her sooner than later…

Alice to Zouroku – 03

In the aftermath of Sana’s big pig-conjuring hiccup, she’s loath to come right out and apologize to Zouroku (as any little kid would be), but playing Good Cop Bad Old Man, Ryuu manages to get Sana to wear a tracking device so he and Shizuku can help keep her safe.

He also wants Zouroku to go ahead and adopt Sana, which is a big step, but isn’t necessarily out of the question for the ol’ buzzard. Sana is a highly believable (and adorable) little kid throughout, constantly asking for juice but taking offense when Sanae asks if she needs help in the potty.

Meanwhile, Kitou takes of the kid gloves and sends in Minnie C Tachibana (again) to retrieve Sana. While en route to her mission we learn quite a bit about Minnie that makes her both a more sympathetic character and explains why she’s on the side of the bad guys.

Minnie met and immediately fell in love with and married an American marine, but when he was killed defusing a bomb in Iraq, she was a lost at sea (figuratively). That is, until she was reborn as a Dream of Alice out of a desire to be held in his big hairy arms – the arms we saw in episode one.

We also learn, I believe for the first time, that Sana’s elaborately costumed saviour from that first episode was actually Shizuku; they have the same blue mirror gate, after all. What’s interesting about this is that while Minnie, the Twins, and the Artist are all under the control of the facility, Shizuku is not only free but leads a normal life.

This is probably why despite Sana possessing power many magnitudes higher than she, Shizuku is working to keep Sana free. At her young age, she still has a chance to lead a normal life. But controlling her powers is key.

And what powers. In another flashback we see Kaitou showing Minnie C the “Wonderland” Sana conjured with a thought. Among the Dreams of Alice, Sana is clearly the crown jewel for them, and the facility wants to keep studying her under it’s determined if others can gain the same level of power.

Minnie C is fully on board with this, because if she can attain Sana’s power, she might be able to bring back her husband. That seems like a long shot, but she clearly thinks its worth it and has dedicated her life to that goal, even though Sana’s power specifically does not harm humans…for now.

Minnie C and Shizuku, then are diametrically opposed in their treatment of Sana. Minnie C has absolutely no compulsions about violently restraining Sana and threatening to break her neck. Sana is The Objective, nothing more. For Shizuku, as well as Zouroku and Sanae, Sana is a little girl who deserves better than lab rat status simply because she has supernatural power.

We leave Sana in the firm hands of Minnie’s beloved, and the good guys only have the faintest idea where she might have gone. But Shizuku is flying through the city, hoping she’s going in the right direction, and won’t rest until she’s found and re-rescued. Hopefully she won’t be too late before Minnie C’s obsession allows Sana to be hurt any further.

Sakura Quest – 02

Yoshino I is still very much The Reluctant Queen, but Ushimatsu doesn’t care, and sets her to work immediately. He’ll let her vacate her one-year contract if she can sell a hundred a thousand boxes of “Chupakabura manju” sweets he ordered to celebrate her coronation. And she only has a week to do it—that’s their “best enjoyed by” date.

It’s clear Shiori doesn’t want her new queen to leave so soon, but she still helps Yoshino out, connecting her first with her timid but tech-savvy childhood friend Ririko, whose mother runs Manoyama’s sweet shop. The encounter helps Yoshino decide on the proper marketing strategy to sell the manju: a website.

For that, Shiori takes Yoshino to the home of another Tokyo ex-pat, Kouzuki Sanae, who seems to be slowly losing it in her dark, litter-filled apartment. When she screams due to a bug, Shiori and Yoshino barge in, and Shiori, like a boss, takes care of the bug while the other two cower. Between Riri and Sanae, I’m loving the detailed, isolated, lived-in little worlds these women inhabit within the town.

Sanae is eager to help her new town out (as well as for human contact) so she works through the night at Yoshino and Maki’s cabin to whip up a “fancyccult” website. Alas, on the first day of sales, Yoshino manages to part with precisely zero of one thousands boxes of manju.

When they try to make the queen seem contrite about ordering too much (after far too many hilarious provisos were attached to her beauty), that results of the sale of three boxes…to Shiori’s family.

Taking things up a notch, they decide to take Maki’s advice and make a video. Maki, AKA “The Oden Detective”, who has experience in acting, superhero shows, and part-time labor, plays the chupakabura, while Riri is the cameraperson.

It’s a modest but cute little production…but it only results in netting one more sale—to the creepy (Westerner?) musician Yoshi first met on the bus. The week comes and goes, and Yoshino is pathetically short of the thousand sales needed to release her from her year-long contract. 996 sales short, to be exact. And yet…she learns that’s not such a big deal.

When she asked Sanae why she left Tokyo, Sanae said she was simply sick of it. Sick of Tokyo, thought Yoshino? The place that has everything and where you can do anything? Where countless opportunities abound? Yoshino has this idea that she can’t make it anywhere if she can’t make it there, but she has it all backwards.

The economy of Tokyo alone may surpass the entire economy of South Korea, but if you apply to thirty-two companies and get thirty-two rejections, then end up with a gig as queen of Manoyama, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something: that, as Sanae says, “you don’t need Tokyo.”

At the end of the week, Yoshino made some great friends and had a lot of fun. So when Shiori tells her the cherry blossoms won’t come for a couple more weeks, she decides, all on her own, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend those couple more weeks in Manoyama. And as much as I too love and admire Tokyo, I don’t blame her. She’s got a good thing going here. And she’s not anywhere near her ‘golden years’!

Uchouten Kazoku 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

The Gist: the stage is set some time after the events that closed the first season, with the cast serving mostly familiar roles. The Shimogamo brothers are an eclectic, often disrespected, but equally relied upon members of the Tenuki community.

Yasaburou continues to take care of the elderly Akadama-sensei, who appears a bit depressed now that Benten is on an extended vacation. Yasaburou’s older brother is still vying for the position of leadership amongst the Tanuki, the youngest brother is immersed in books and his own world, and the second brother is still a frog at the bottom of the well. Fools’ blood all around but fools’ blood where we would expect it.

One day, while Yasaburou is searching for a mythical snake, a couch falls from the sky. Eventually, this leads him to meet Akadama-sensei’s son, who’s returned after over a hundred years in exile. While their exchanges are guarded, the two wayward sons seem to bond over clever and polite banter. However, it’s obvious that Akadama’s son will be a source of major conflict.

Sure enough, by the end of the evening, Father and son stand on a roof ready to duel…

At it’s core, this opening episode is a leisurely exploration of nostalgia and the challenges of tradition (or, perhaps, generally grappling with the past).

Yasaburou’s snake-hunt is something his father own father played at long ago. It’s even how his father and mother met, which Yasaburou attributes as the singular reason he and his four brothers exist.

Meanwhile, Yasaburou’s older brother is attempting to revive the town’s shoji tournament, which has not been run since their father was cooked in a hot pot. Not only does this repeat the shadow of the father motif, but it reinforces the older brother’s need to retain the family place as an upstanding leader in the community. It’s strongly implied this will let him tanuki-bang the wide eye’d girl at the clinic too.

Double meanwhile, Akadama and his son have an unavoidable need to battle, due to their traditional pride as tengu. However, neither seems up for that tradition (Akadama physically and his son emotionally). It’s comical to see the modern tengu, a classless lot, dressed like dime store mobsters, egg them on from afar. As Akadama’s son says when he first meets them: if you’re tengu, at least put some pride in it.

You should probably watch Uchouten Kazoku’s second season because the first was a lovely, whimsical tale of weirdness. While the narrative buildup and payoff, and the tension along the way lacked the emotional impact of other weird-genre shows (Tamako Market, Tatami Galaxy, Mr.Despair), Uchouten Kazoku absolutely rules the roost for world-building. Only Durarara!! comes close.

You may choose to skip Uchouten Kazoku because it’s destined to be a slow build with an all-too-uneventful finish. While the high concepts appeal to me, and pose a creative challenge to tease out and express via review, I must admit that academic focus creates a barrier between the story and emotionally resonant action and conventional drama.

The Verdict: Uchouten Kazoku is solidly enjoyable to look at and confidently cool. Despite being a slow burn, it presents a lot to absorb; at times, too quickly for me to read without pausing.

But that’s hardly a complaint, as re-watching and rewinding lets me revel in its wonderful camera angles, solid color work, imaginative facial expressions, character designs and gestures. The music choices haven’t stuck with me but that also means I have no complaints about them either.